Vice President Joe Biden’s recent conduct has drawn headlines, interviews and discussion to determine if his behavior with women is in the vein of borderline creepy, harmless and a product of a socially inept man, or a sign of a deeper problem that would damage his impending presidential race. The spark for this discussion comes from Lucy Flores’s personal essay discussing an uncomfortable situation with Biden. Flores accused Biden of inappropriately kissing the back of her head and holding her from behind before she appeared on stage for a speech in 2014.
Does his action constitute inappropriate behavior? Sure, Flores said that his behavior was in an “intimate way reserved for close friends, family or romantic partners.” We have to consider what ramifications this should have, if any. Biden has a history of invading personal space, holding people by the shoulders and whispering in ears of young women. There is a famous photo of Stephanie Carter that has been used to demonstrate his ‘creepy’ behavior. However, Carter claims he did so as a friend, and dislikes how media outlets have repurposed the photo to meet their political perspectives.
This is all to say that regardless of political affiliation, opinion, social standing or celebrity status, we should look at situations assuming that people are ignorant rather than malicious. Is Biden secretly abusing his status to take advantage of women and show dominance? No. Is it not more likely that Biden is oblivious of social manners and physical boundaries? Unfortunately, this story has partly gained ground because it is politically beneficial. Elizabeth Warren responded to the question asking if this should preclude Biden’s presidential run – “That’s for Joe Biden to decide.”
It is politically advantageous for her not to defend a future opponent. On top of that, it is very difficult to discern whether Warren’s answer is meant to fuel the fire against him, or if she felt it was too politically charged to go one way or another. Conversely, Cory Booker fled from reporters who were asking the same question, but was open to commenting on Jussie Smollett’s story immediately when the news broke. The original Smollett news reports clearly supported Booker’s narrative of hate crimes in America. We should not look for straight answers from politicians, but observe their motivations for their public statements.
Ultimately, these stories usually lie in neither extreme: innocent of any wrongdoing or guilty as sin. Biden’s conduct may not be ideal, but we certainly have to view it as social ineptitude with personal space.